The ACCC On Valve's Refund Policy: "We Had To Take It To Court"

This morning the ACCC announced it would be taking Valve to court over its current refund policy. Today we spoke to ACCC Chairman Rod Sims and Regional Director Sam Di Scerni about the issue and some of the reasoning behind today's statement.

The ACCC is alleging that Valve has made misleading statements to Australian consumers regarding their refund rights, but Valve's refund policy clearly states that refunds aren't provided "unless required by local law". We asked the ACCC if this had any bearing on the decision to take this issue to court.

Sam Di Scerni claimed the ACCC was aware of this clause, but believed it was largely irrelevant in the context of other language in Valve's terms and conditions.

"It does say that," he admitted, "but there's a lot of text that uses language that says all sort of stuff about warranties and denies rights. Just having one disclaimer doesn't void that."

"What we always ask is what does the reasonable consumer see and understand when he looks to get a refund," added Rod Sims. "A lot of this is basically fine print advertising."

According to Rod, this case is about highlighting an issue to the Steam users who aren't aware of their rights under Australian consumer law. These people, he believes, are being misled by Valve's current policy.

"It's the people who don't call us that are a concern for us," he said. "The people who think a refund isn't available so they don't even try, because the fact is that Australian law does allow consumers to get refunds."

The ACCC has fielded numerous complaints about the policy, but wants to focus on the larger issues at play.

"We have a number of examples when people have been denied refunds," he explained, "but it's pointless to march in thousands of people. We are focusing on the bigger issue here."

Earlier this morning Valve informed us it was "making every effort to cooperate with the Australian officials" — we asked Rod if the ACCC had been in contact with Valve regarding the refunds issue. What was the current situation, and what pushed the ACCC to take this issue to court?

"We've had a lot of contact with Valve," said Rod, "but sometimes these companies say if you don't take us to court we won't stop. In that situation we have make a judgement call. We have to judge how bad the behaviour is.

"In this case we judged that the behaviour was so bad that we had to take it to court."

According to Rod, this is the kind of case that could be settled in months, if Valve decides to co-operate (and their previous statement suggests they will). But if they decide to fight the case, things may drag out.

"If they [Valve] want to reach an early resolution it could be over in a month or two. They’re a huge company with massive resources, so if they want to fight it could go one or two years. we’ll wait and see to see if they want to do."


Comments

    It will be settled in months... unless valve delays it. ;)

      No, no, this one will be settled within months.
      The second case will take a little longer.
      The third case...let's not talk about that.

        All my students just wondered why I laughed out loud. Oops. ;)

    I can't see myself ever really asking for a refund from a service like this unless I have a child or something someday, and they purchase stuff accidentally, or without permission. Sure would be nice if they'd do something about the 'Australia tax' while they're at it though.

      Erm... if ypu bought say a60 or 70 buck gme that was broken then abandoned under their new clause for instance?

        Happened to me with Ghost Recon Future Soldier via Steam. Was broken to the point of being unplayable on release - most mice didn't work at all, and apart from that was just a generally shoddy console port.

        They rectified a lot of the issues over the following weeks, and got it to a playable state - but I had issues with graphics and crashing that were never rectified. Incidentally, these issues were widely acknowledged and experienced by many, so it wasn't a typical PC general incompatibility or somesuch.

        Would've loved my $80 odd back on that one.

        I'm not saying it's impossible, but I've yet to have any issues with anything I've purchased that has given me cause to seek a refund. Anything's possible, just saying it's not very likely for me. I'm pretty patient though. I'll contact devs and do my own digging around before seeking a refund on something like that.
        I think it's a good thing that they're cracking down on it, but just for me, the price difference is more of an issue!

        Happened to couple of Steam games lately, like the DayZ clone WarZ that steam took it down and provide refund for people who wanted it.

        I think steam is doing quite a fine job now. They can't issue refund just because someone played finish the game and decided to say it is broken and refund it like what they do to EB Games.

        Last edited 29/08/14 1:53 pm

          Yeah but theres a difference between games that are outright broken and games you dont like. Broken games are a rarity though. A true rarity.

      You aren't actually covered by the ACL for purchases that you later regret: you are only legally guaranteed a refund for defective goods. So even when the ACCC wins this court case you could be denied a refund in that case.

        I'm not likely to have children any time in the foreseeable future, so I can't see it being a problem anyway ;) Just thinking that might be one of the only times I might try to seek a refund. I wouldn't expect I'd get it, but if you don't ask, you don't know.

          It's certainly possible for a retailer to give you a refund in this case: but if they do it'll be because they are nice people rather than because they are being compelled by the law.

    This is great. I have a few games that just would never work. Tried every fix and nothing. It's good to see that valve can be held accountable and that they aren't above the law.

    How about they go after Nintendo for having games locked to their devices instead of their SD cards? If the unit goes faulty you've lost all downloaded games.

      My DS died, when I got it replaced Nintendo sorted me out with new downloads for all the content.

        Didnt do it for my son :(

          Yeah, I called them up and asked and they said it's Replied Paid unless they can find it's your fault. So I thought if I sent in my 2DS they're scrub the thing, trying to find any excuse for the problem being mine and then charge me for postage and for buying a new unit. Thought it wasn't worth it as I only downloaded something worth 40-50 bucks.

      I thought it's tied to your Nintendo account now?

        Nah, NNID is practically useless. If anything, it just helps lock things down further - you can't link a US NNID to an AU console, etc. Purchases are still console-bound. Only way to move it is via a system transfer from one to another, or get Nintendo to do it inhouse.

        Yes and no. It's tied to your NNID, but also to the device on which you bought it. If your console crashes somehow, you can now call up Nintendo and if you're lucky get new downloads.

    I got denied a refund (as I didn't know their policy) only a month or two ago. I bought a game for the early-access and it'd crash to desktop at every launch, so I couldn't even play it.. Steam's response was some basic troubleshooting that I'd already tried, followed by sorry no refunds.. So I'm glad that this is happening

      Same here I really hope it passes so I can get a refund on Payday 2.. it just crashes I've tried everything ...

      I'm not normally one to defend releasing shoddy games without refunds, but isn't that part of the early access deal? The games are meant to be works in progress and aren't supported until much later down the track when it's a full release.
      That said if you want a refund and can get one I say go for it. If anything it'll give developers exploiting early access to fleece users something to worry about.

        I don't think "early access" would matter, other than hoping the consumer is understanding of such issues. But if you purchased it, you're entitled by law to a refund under certain circumstances.

          But how does that work when the player isn't buying the game they're buying a pre-order of a game and access to a 'maybe it works, maybe it doesn't' early-access testing program? I guess that's more like cancelling a pre-order than a refund which doesn't need nearly as much justification, but it's not very fair to the people producing the content.
          I mean if Nudge up there wants his money back I'm fine with it and he's got a perfectly good reason to ask for it, but I think if we were talking about a regular digital pre-order bonus like a book it'd be exploiting the system to pre-order, read the book, then cancel the pre-order.

            When you purchase an Early Access game, there is a statement about the game's current state, the developer's plans for the future and estimated rate of updates. Sure, you can't expect a polished game when you buy Early Access, but you should be able to rely on this information when making the purchase.

            Assuming the game wasn't described as "currently crashes to the desktop", then he should have the same rights as if it was sold as a finished game.

        I understand what the early access deal is, but if I cannot launch the game at all.. I'm not really getting that access that I paid for am I? Doesn't seem right that you can't get a refund on a literally broken product.

        There isn't a provision for things like Early Access in the ACL.

        Under the ACL, products sold 'As-Is' (Like Early Access games are) need to have all of their faults pointed out to the consumer upon purchasing.

        It's not good enough to say "It's not working properly" or "Bits missing", you've got to say "Faulty Bearing and broken bearing mounting" or "Mayfair card and some House pieces are Missing". If all the houses are missing or the entire bearing housing, not just the mount, is completely shattered, then that's legally grounds for a refund because the product wasn't as described.

        There may be the need for little leeway in the law for things like Early Access, but Retailers would probably take that inch and stretch it a mile.

        Last edited 29/08/14 5:49 pm

    Only time I could see myself trying to get a refund from steam would be for an early access game if it was abandoned, for completed games you get what you paid for, research isn't hard.

    I bought X-Com off steam and I didn't end up playing it for about 12 months. When I did, I would get about 4 or 5 hours in and then it would crash. I would delete all my saves and start again, no luck. Now it doesn't even let me get past the opening menu and all the forums I've read of other people with the same issue don't seem to get anything resolved. I wonder how that would fit in to a refund policy.

    I wonder if this will effect those of us that have bought games previously that just won't work? I'm looking at you Arkham City.

    Damn. The games development industry in Australia is struggling enough without additional pressure.

    Don't get me wrong - if the game you download doesn't work, then you should have a recourse, and I applaud the ACCC for taking the matter on hand. BUT this is what I see as a games developer starting in the industry:

    Short Term ramifications - none other than the hope that Valve will refund some disgruntled purchasers sometime in the distant future,
    Mid Term Ramifications - purchasers will be able to get refunds on games they purchased from when the new law came into effect (I highly doubt it would be retrospective), and where would the money come from - the games developers themselves,
    Long Term ramifications - another charge that can be used to inflate the cost of a game in the Australian market, and a negative legal precedent being set for other service providers.

    Benefits to the Australian games development community as a whole? I can't think of one, actually. I know there are individuals out there that would welcome this news, but even if you call me pessimistic, I cannot see a good side to a foreign service provider being sued over products supplied by an external party. Someone please tell there's a good side to this for the community?

      How about instead of letting every man and his dog dump steaming piles on the Australian consumer's doorstep in order to rush the product out the door and get to work on the next helping, it actually encourages proper testing procedures and developers to take a greater interest in the quality assurance part of the development process? I for one am sick to death of getting a brand new game and then having to download day 1-20 patches to fix @#$% that should have been picked up before it was even shipped. Bring some responsibility back to the product development process instead of just using the time honored saying of "close enough" and saying the customers can't do jack once they find out that "close enough" isn't anywhere near.

      Last edited 31/08/14 12:48 am

        I am totally with you on that, and I'm guessing that it will be one of the long term benefits of this court case.

        Please don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying that this shouldn't happen. I'm not saying that there aren't a lot of titles, both AAA and Indie, that are shipped before they are complete, and they should be, and the publishers of those titles need to be held to account.

        What I am saying is that there is great scope for massive damage to the future of the games industry in Australia in this court case.

        Think of this - added time in finishing a title for release + required additional after-sales support = added cost to the purchaser. Its a game of economics, plain and simple. And while a developer may work for free on a title they have worked so hard on, there is not a publisher or distributor on this planet that wont pass on any costs they are being legally required to incur to the end purchaser. Most consumers will pass it off as just a 'normal' price increase, but its the fan's of a title that are the most vocal on the pricing differences between countries of purchase, and its the fans reviews of a title that are the make or break of a studio.

        And while speaking of games studios, this court case has the opportunity to put the final nail in the coffin of any studio opening in Australia in the future without government grants or tax breaks - added after-sales support = added costs at local wage levels, which to my information are higher here in the great south land than other geographic options. Again, economic sense will prevail.

      Why would it not be retrospective? It WAS law before this court case.

      That's like saying I can do illegal shit and not get in trouble unless I do it *after* they have warned me to stop.

        I am only guessing, as I'm not involved in the court case or with any party in any way, but I'll hazard a guess that Valve won't allow it, no matter what the end consumer's issue. If they did, it would open the gates for Steam, the publishers and the developers to loose millions in revenue. It could kill the whole idea of software as a service in Australia. My best guess is that Valve would close Steam to Australian users before they'd allow retrospective refunds.

        A simple clause in an Australian specific user agreement stating something along the lines of "refunds are only allowed within the first 96 hours from purchase" would make it 100% current and legal but total exonerate them out of any retrospective claims.

    I'm glad they are doing this.
    I love Valve to death but even EA's Origin has their refund policy closer to what it should be/Aussie law.

    1-2 months Valve time? Good god, this case will get 2/3 of the way and then just disappear.

    I think this should only work for games that definitively don't work, regardless of PC. I think Valve would probably get rid of them on it's own though, so I think the ACCC's reaching here.

      So you don't mind them breaking the law? Cool.

    i want to refund my darksouls

    worst console port ever, can't even save

    The only thing that worries me is that if Valve is found to be in breach of Australian laws i just hope that instead of fixing their policies they decide to pull out of the market altogether.

    Earlier this morning Valve informed us it was “making every effort to cooperate with the Australian officials
    If you recall the last time I read a sentence like this we got Left 4 Dead 2: Australian Edition

    I got a refund of Apple for Shadowrun on iOS. It constantly crashed, that combined with the lack of ability to save anywhere was disastrous. So I contacted the dev and they put me on to Apple who refunded me. I didn't expect a refund so it was a nice surprise. You never know of you don't try.

    The complication of the issue as I understand it is that steam does not provide an actual product, unlike retail stores, but instead refers to themselves as a subscription service. Each time you "buy a game", you are actually expanding your subscription to include access to their license to that game instead of purchasing the license itself. As I understand it under American law this is sufficient to bypass most consumer rights issues. Under Australian law, however, it seems it may be a whole different kettle of fish

      The ACC stuff don't just cover actual products, it covers services and stuff too. So whether Valve is selling you a product (the game) or a service (access to the game) it doesn't really matter.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pM_IU9s50s (First 5 minutes covers it)
      *Replaced ABC link to youtube link. You can't actually watch in on ABC.

      Last edited 01/09/14 9:19 am

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